Bird Watching in Hook

Article Number Ten in Hook History Society’s Lockdown Series.

This article about bird life in Hook and neighbouring Llangwm has been written by well known Pembrokeshire professional artist Graham Brace. Graham has long been a valued supporter of Hook History Society and a has helped create an identity for the Society by handling a considerable amount of its artwork which has been used in publications; dvd’s; posters etc.

Graham’s principal form of relaxation is ornithology and he is regarded as particularly knowledgeable in the field of waders and waterfowl many of which are found along the western Cleddau. An area much walked by the artist and often featured in his sought-after paintings.

The Birds of Hook and Llangwm


We are indeed very lucky to live in the immediate vicinity of one of the most important habitats in Wales from the point of view of ornithological interest. The upper reaches of the Daugleddau Estuary and the tidal stretches of the Western and Eastern Cleddau provide sustenance and shelter to a large and varied population of wildfowl, waders and other water birds outside the breeding season from August through to April.

The summer months are always quiet, when the water bird population along the river appears to be pretty much non-existent.

During the summer months most of the birds associated with the river have migrated to their respective breeding grounds further north and east (often to the Arctic, Scandinavia and the wilds of Russia). Some waders and plovers go shorter distances to the uplands and moorlands of Britain.

By contrast, during the summer months the surrounding countryside and woodlands come alive with a quite different variety of birds. These are the migratory species from Africa…the songbirds (warblers) and hirundines (swallows, martins and swifts) in addition to our resident species like robins, blackbirds, thrushes, tits, finches, starlings and wagtails, etc… also the crow family (jackdaws, rooks, magpies and jays) and the raptors (buzzard, sparrowhawk, kestrel, red kite, peregrine, barn and tawny owls).

For the keen birdwatcher, there is never a dull moment throughout the year.


During the winter months a walk along the shore at Little Milford, Hook Reach, Fowborough, Sprinkle and Llangwm Pills will turn up a wide variety of birds to wonder at. Most obvious are the large flocks of Canada Geese, an introduced species, whose numbers have ballooned dramatically in the last 50 years. Other species of geese are sometimes present…greylag and occasionally, barnacle geese. Duck species include the largest and most prominently marked, the shelduck. There are mallard and around Fowborough, Sprinkle and Llangwm in particular, the smallest of British ducks, the teal. These are generally present in large numbers often totalling hundreds. Another variety often seen in much smaller numbers is the wigeon.

The varieties of waders, to the unpractised eye, are often more difficult to identify. The curlew, the largest of all with its long curved bill and speckled plumage is probably the most prominent. You’ll see redshank with their orange/red legs and distinctive alarm call in large numbers and greenshank along the entire shore, feeding at the water’s edge and in the gullies. The spit at Fowborough often hosts a variety of waders – ringed plovers, dunlin, (sometimes in their hundreds), knot, black tailed godwits and oystercatchers.

The waterside vegetation will conceal snipe, likely to launch themselves into the air at the last minute when disturbed. During April and September groups of whimbrel (a smaller version of the curlew) can be seen on passage to their breeding grounds in spring and wintering grounds further south in the autumn.

Real spectacles to behold during the mid-winter period are the vast flocks of golden plover and green plover (lapwings) that congregate at Fowborough. They provide the most wonderful sight when they take to the air in flocks often exceeding several hundred individuals. 

A water bird to look out for is the large, solitary heron, often seen hunched at the water’s edge or with long neck extended as it stalks for small fish and crustaceans in the shallows. Another prominent bird is its close cousin, the pure white little egret, stalking the shallows and gullies. This stunning bird has rapidly extended its territory northwards from the Mediterranean over the last 30 years or so.

Look closely at the little egret, it has jet black legs and bright yellow feet, as if it has inadvertently stepped in a paint tray! During the summer the long white plumes can be seen at the back of its head. In recent years, that most distinctive of British waders, the avocet, has been occasionally recorded in the vicinity of Little Milford and along Hook Reach.

You might be lucky to spot a marauding peregrine patrolling the skies and on the lookout for an unsuspecting meal.

Other water birds to be seen are cormorants, often drying out on the spit at Fowborough and, in winter, great crested grebes and the occasional great northern diver are to be seen in the Daugleddau off Fowborough.

Gulls are ever-present, the most numerous (and noisy) being black headed gulls in winter and throughout the year, herring gulls, lesser black backed gulls and, contrary to its name and fewer in number, common gulls. The largest British gull, the greater black backed gull is also seen as well as an increasing number of Mediterranean gulls. This species is almost identical to the black headed gull and the subtle differences can only be distinguished by the experienced birder.

The Daugleddau Estuary and river system is on the migratory route of the osprey and these magnificent raptors are occasionally seen taking fish from the river and resting on their northward journey in April and southward journey in September.

Lapwings photographed alongside feeding Dunlin
Above: Lapwings photographed alongside feeding Dunlin


During the spring and summer months, the fields, thickets and woodlands are alive with birds and birdsong. Prominent is the mellow fluting song of the blackbird from its treetop perch, the repetitive “chiff-chaff” call of the…you guessed it…chiffchaff, a small brownish bird heard more than it’s seen.

There are the more melodious songs of the willow warbler and blackcap, the strident song of the wren - totally out of proportion with its diminutive size.

Swallows swoop low over fields hoovering up small insects, house martins gather mud for their eaves-hung nests, swifts scream in the evening air.

Come autumn mixed gangs of finches (mainly goldfinches and linnets) feast on seed heads and the detritus from cereal harvests.

In the woodland from Little Milford to Hook Quay you’ll likely hear the great spotted woodpecker ‘drumming’.

If you are really lucky you might spot a crossbill, a colourful finch with a bill adapted for extracting the seeds from pinecones.

Also sometimes seen in this woodland is the spectacular goshawk (once described as a sparrow hawk on steroids!) renowned for its adeptness in pursuing its prey through dense woodland…like an Exocet missile!

The Greater Spotted Woodpecker at a bird feeder
Above: The Greater Spotted Woodpecker at a bird feeder


You will be astounded at the great variety of birdlife that can be seen, season by season across the year in your own neighbourhood. Regular observation will improve familiarity and recognition of the various species to the novice ornithologist. Birdwatching can be full of surprises and the thrill of adding a new species to your list is very satisfying indeed. There are currently 620 species of birds on the British list, very many of which are extremely rare visitors and vagrants. So get started!

You can start by recording the common species around your house and garden. A good, well-illustrated guidebook (of which there are many) and a modestly priced pair of binoculars (8 x 32 or, better still, 10 x 50) will give you access to a rewarding and fascinating pastime. These days there are several free apps that can be downloaded to your phone or computer to help you identify bird songs and calls.

When you are out and about keep your eyes and ears open…or as Boris would say…BE ALERT!!


On 26th October 2016 I had a phone call from a resident at Llangwm Ferry to tell me that there was a strange, large, brown bird taking small fish from his garden pond. Without any more ado I headed for Llangwm Ferry and, sure enough, there was this large brown-streaked bird sitting among the reeds at the pondside. By its shape, it was obviously a member of the heron family. Referring to my Collins Bird Guide confirmed that it was indeed a squacco heron. This individual was way out of its range which is normally the coastal area surrounding the Mediterranean.

I read that it was a rare vagrant to Britain. I took many photographs and on returning home contacted the Pembrokeshire Bird Group who informed me that this was only the second record for Pembrokeshire, although this species has been recorded on more numerous occasions in other parts of the country.

It was reported on the Pembrokeshire Bird Blog and then nationally on the Bird Guides Website. It obligingly stayed around for 4 days dividing its time between the garden pond and Guildford Pill, during which time a steady number of ‘twitchers’ from as far afield as East Anglia turned up in the hope of seeing it. Some were disappointed having travelled many miles!

On the fifth day it disappeared only to turn up in another garden in Narberth and then Pentlepoir before finally moving on.

Then, lo and behold, on 3rd July 2018, a call from another resident whose property overlooks Guildford Pill informed me of another suspected sighting in the Pill. He had already consulted a bird guide and thought it might be a squacco heron. Sure enough, resting on the mud alongside the stream was another individual, this time in it summer plumage.

This was the third record for Pembrokeshire! It is unlikely that it was the same bird that paid us a visit two years previously. This bird had disappeared the following day and, to my knowledge, was not reported at any other location in Pembrokeshire.

The rare visitor..a Squacco Heron
Above: The rare visitor..a Squacco Heron

Graham Brace

10th June 2020